“And here we are. Her Majesty’s chambers.” Casa stopped and turned on her heel as she stood beside a mighty door. Eira kept her head low, pulling her bonnet up over her head as far as she could when she graciously bowed to the young lady. Casa, as uptight and proper as she was, instructed the Green Folk on how to curtsey, as opposed to bowing, which was reserved for gentlemen. With a timid gulp she mimicked the maid, and with a cold, condescending grin, Casa wished her to best of luck and took off down the hall. Eira stood outside the door for a moment, reminded of the magnificence of its massive doors and towering frame, when she knocked on them softly. She couldn’t help but wonder if anyone inside could even hear it.
“Come in darling!” Came a voice from the other side. With another gulp, Eira took the door’s heavy handle and opened it, unsure of what to expect. The room was spacious and pampered with the best that royalty could afford, from the soft bed arrangements to the massive mirror at which the young princess sat before. A roaring fireplace kept the stone walls from making the room an ice-box, which Eira felt immediately upon entering the chamber. The stained-glass windows taking up much of one end of the chamber had all been pushed open, allowing pure light to pour into the room in radiating beams of light. Deep red curtains flanked the wall of windows on each side, as they themselves had been parted for the fresh breeze.
Princess Susan sat at her dresser, combing her fine golden hair with a melodic hum when she turned toward Eira. She set the brush on onto the beautifully carved drawer and stood up elegantly, her face a bit puzzled by the girl’s entrance. She wore a deep purple dress, adorned with jewels and gold along her neck and waist that clanked with her movements, with flower-like frills spreading out at her wrists.
“I don’t remember bringing with me a servant from home.” She said. No matter how melodic her voice was, her words nearly made Eira panic as she inched back toward the door. Susan smiled. “You must be new. I am Princess Susan Gladview, sole heiress to the Gladview lands and fortune. I…understand it isn’t customary to speak of such things, but what might my dear servant’s name be?” Eira cleared her throat, intimidated by the very way Susan held herself, when she nodded.
“Tis Eira Your Majesty. Eira Aune.”
“Eira Aune? How charming.” Susan laughed in an utmost girlish manner. “Tis a good name Miss Aune.” Eira smiled meekly.
“W-what is it that you would like for me to do Your Majesty?” Susan brought a hand up to her soft cheek, dragging her long, painted fingernails slowly down toward her chin, when she hummed softly.
“Let us see. My bed has been made, good work Eira. The windows have been opened to let the fresh air in. The fire made to perfection. Hmm…oh! May I see your hair?” The young woman spoke with an enthusiasm Eira couldn’t help but admire, so despite Green Folk traditions, she pulled her bonnet down to reveal her light brown hair. “Oh I love the braided crown you have! Will you not do the same for me? After all, a princess certainly deserves a crown yes?” Eira swallowed again. What choice did she have? As she readjusted her bonnet back to her head, she nodded.
“O-of course Your Majesty.”
“Lovely!” With an elegant spin the princess sat back down in her seat and looked toward the mirror when Eira approached her timidly. From her straight posture to the smile she had yet to see leave her face, the Green Folk could only imagine what the life of royalty was like, when her hands gently took two thick strands of hair just behind Susan’s ears. Likewise, the princess closed her eyes and raised her nose slightly, when Eira did precisely what her mother had taught her since she was a child. “So tell me Eira, where is it that you come from? I questioned myself for a moment, but I am certain you aren’t the maid I had in mind from home. As I’ve said darling, they said she would stay there, but you certainly don’t hold yourself as the other maids I’ve seen here do.” The Green Folk felt her heart race for a moment, but she remained collected. If anything positive came from this day, it was her ability to lie and make up stories. Her mother wouldn’t be particularly proud.
“I-I hail from here Your Majesty. From the towns in fact.” She smiled at Susan in the mirror, who gave her an inquisitive look.
“I see. Have you a husband? Children perhaps?” Eira blushed.
“No Your Majesty. I do not.” Susan smiled.
“I’m certain you will someday. But Eira? As my personal servant, you needn’t be so proper with me. Susan will suffice. I care to be less formal with those so beneficial to me.”
“Thank you Your…I mean, Susan.” The princess smiled warmly.
“That’s better.” She took a deep breath, followed by a sigh. “Have you by chance met James yet Eira?”
“I’m afraid not.” Susan hummed again, slumping in her chair in a careless manner as her heart raced.
“I have not either, but he is the man I am to wed. How I have heard he is romantic as he is handsome. You are one to believe in true love yes Eira?”
“Then this is it. This is true love. Yes. James is my one and only.” Susan giggled softly to herself as she straightened her posture once more. “I was worried I would be married to a middle-aged fat man. But James, I’ve heard he is thin, yet he is strong, and young, and he has golden hair and white skin just like snow. I couldn’t imagine myself marrying anyone else.
“You see, I once had a maid named Melissa. Sure she was efficient, but her skin…yuck! I would have thought she’d rolled around in dirt each day before serving me. As if she was trying her hardest to displease me in the smallest, most indirect manner. And I am certain she stole from Daddy whenever she could. But you…” Susan brought a hand up over her shoulder and gently graced Eira’s fingers. “You are beautiful. Your skin, your eyes, your hair. Perfect. Surely one like you must be honest as you are helpful.” This was when Eira felt uncomfortable. She swiftly completed her braiding and announced it to Susan, who pranced about the room in celebration.
“I…I should hardly think of myself as perfect Your Majesty.” She said softly. Susan stopped in the middle of her prideful dance and turned toward her, her look riddled with concern when she stepped toward the girl.
“You needn’t be shy with me Eira.” She smiled warmly again. “You are one of the chosen few. I feel blessed to have you as my servant and friend.” The Green Folk could only nod.
“Th-thank you Milady.” Susan’s smile widened as she hummed again and danced. Eira was left to watch and listen as the princess rambled on about James, her home, and everything she felt was important to herself and her life. Still, she continued to dot her comments with rather offensive and ignorant remarks, which for Eira, who had grown up with Folk of numerous origins, made her uneasy. For Susan, however, it was all but an afterthought.
“You say you are new to this whole experience yes?” Eira simply nodded to the princess’s question. “Delightful! We will both learn a lot in these coming days.”
“Oh yes! Tomorrow there shall be a grand jousting tournament, with the finest knights in the land fighting for land and the hands of fair maidens, and just mere days after that, my glorious wedding to Prince Jameson.” Susan gave a girlish batter of her eyes with an excited spin on her tiptoes. “Perhaps you shall find yourself a fine husband Eira. A servant though you are, I feel that, as my friend, I could help you become nobility with the right suggestions of a certain knight or two. Can you imagine it? Two knights, so proud and so strong, fighting for your hand for marriage in combat. How romantic!”
“Y-yes. I am truly excited.” The Green Folk gave a timid smile, knowing that the last person she’d care to marry was an arrogant and rude knight. “May I ask you a question Susan?”
“Of course. Don’t fear to ask me anything as my servant.”
“A-as your s-servant, where might I sleep tonight?”
“Hmm…I never thought of that. You see, all of you tend to come and go so quickly, I don’t think of you lot very much. In fact, you’re the only one I have talked to this much. Why don’t you sleep in here? It will be like a child’s stay over!” Susan giggled at the idea, to which Eira simply nodded graciously.
“Th-thank you Milady.” Susan clasped her hands before her and smiled widely, curtseying ever so slightly in doing so.
“Tis the least I can do for a friend. Come. Let us have some tea.” Eira blinked once in response, when Susan smirked. “You haven’t made tea before?”
“No! I-I-I have. It’s simply…where is it?”
“Should be in one of the cabinets over there in a small box, and the kettle sets just atop the fireplace.” She pointed across the room as she sat down at a small table beside the window, made just for teatime. As she waited with a tapping finger, Eira fumbled through one cabinet door after another. Unable to read any of the numerous boxes inside, she finally found a small container and snatched it in her hand. Following that, the teacups were easily found at the small desk beneath the cabinet, which left her just to retrieve the kettle.
This she could understand, as Eira pulled out a lower drawer on the cabinet. Sure enough, it contained a couple of thick rags with which she could grab the kettle’s handle without burning herself. First she dipped the contents of the container into one of the teacups and took to the kettle before pouring the hot water in after it. With a tiny spoon she stirred it rapidly and presented the teacup and small dish to the princess. She took it graciously.
“Thank you Eira. Won’t you sit with me?” Eira did so without a word, while Susan took a rather large sip. Smacking her tongue up against the roof of her mouth, she savored its flavor, followed by a surprised hum. Eira blinked once before her eyes widened and mouth opened slightly. “Hmm…quite a bitter taste at first, but it gets better. Can’t say I’ve had it before. Certainly a local flavor I presume.” But Eira wasn’t surprised by her reaction; rather, it was her mouth. Her tongue, as it flicked about while speaking, was oily black, as her lips soon became when she wet them. That container she poured in didn’t hold tea, but ink. She smiled, to which Susan returned a toothy, albeit black, grin.
Maybe she wouldn’t notice?
The sun was slowly falling behind the horizon as the forest grew dark. First it glowed in a fine golden hue, but as the light faded, the forest canopy failed to let any light fail past its leafy barrier. Soon Hopper was forced to lead only by his snout, as the countless raptors behind him followed blindly. He was close, however. Close enough to taste his next encounter.
Before he even knew it, the allosaurus stumbled into a wide clearing, one filled with herbivores. There were armored ankylosaurs, horned centrosaurs, and even some duck-bills. His mouth drooled as his eyes darted from one to another. Perhaps a young one, he thought, but no! That fat one there was perfect. It took a moment or two, but Hopper came to realize that with his appearance, he failed to attract a single glance. Instead, they all stood around a heavily-armored and dominant ankylosaur, who himself stood before Giant. The giganotosaurus was as confident before the mob as he ever could be.
“…and without that protection I dare say you and your ilk are nothing more than easy targets to predation and terror.” Giant said smoothly. The lead ankylosaur grunted with a stomp of his foot.
“Why should we trust you? You have more teeth and claws than any one hunter of ours.”
“Please, believe me when I say I have never gone back on a promise. Should you deal with us, you shall never be preyed upon by one of my men. Also, might I remind you what a considerable plot of forest I control?” Giant spoke with that ever confident grin of his. Boulder the ankylosaurus, however, was less than convinced as he gave a disgruntled snort. But the carnivore wasn’t deterred, however, as he simply smiled when Hopper walked up toward his side.
“Who is this?” Boulder demanded.
“This is Hopper, one of my most trusted followers. My dear friend, what news have you brought.” Giant gave a friendly, toothy smile to the allosaurus, who returned the look with an uneasy glance.
“A handful of recruits Giant.” Hopper replied. “They have gone to their homes to tell their families of their new duties.”
“Excellent. You see Boulder, my men are on their own terms. Family is first, then duty. Not the other way around.” He gave a warm grin as the armored herbivore glanced at numerous members of his group. He turned back at the giganotosaurus with a stern stare.
“We will ally with you, but only when you need us. Should any of us fall to your claws…”
“Yes, yes, their punishment and fate is entirely up to you, my dear comrade. I understand very well friend.” Sure enough, the herbivore pack moved onward, past the mouths of savoring velociraptors, when Giant turned toward Hopper. “So this mission was a success? Terrific! Perhaps another day or two of this and we might get somewhere.”
“Thank you sir. Unfortunately not as many as we could have hoped for.” Something changed in the giganotosaurus, as if something had simply clicked in his mind. His smile faded slightly, but hints of it remained.
“Oh…? You say that as if you’re hiding something. Are you Hopper?”
“No sir. Of course not.” Giant snickered as he walked around the allosaur, his grin unnerving him.
“You know I don’t care for liars. Now come out with it. Hmm?” Hopper, feeling himself to have backed into a corner, sighed.
“Two beings escaped knowing somewhat of your plans.”
“What was that? You…let them get away?”
“They were swift as they were tricky sir…and…my men, they were too easily distracted.” Giant’s grin left his snout as he looked to the ground with a disgraced shake of his head.
“Hmph. Pity…any names?”
“I never caught them, but they work for Rust.”
“Rust? Hmm. Well that puts a damper on the mood doesn’t it?” Giant spoke with a sense of urgency as he walked on past the allosaurus. His hands toyed with one another as gears clicked constantly in his head, when he stopped. “We aren’t far from the border; they have likely made it to him by now.” Hopper hung his head in shame.
“That cannot be helped now.” The giganotosaurus turned and stood beside Hopper, encouraging a weak smile as he himself grinned widely. “We have too much going for us to hinder our progress. Rust is but an afterthought now.”
“And his underling?”
“Ha. Rex is but a pup. Arrogant just as his parents were. We will continue our plans as scheduled.”
“Very good sir. But…what might we do now?”
“You say you’ve recruited all you could?”
“Keep on. If nothing else, act as guards for the domain. Thankfully Boulder has bolstered our numbers significantly. He will prove a key ally. Now then, if anyone else should be working for Rust, do not let them escape next time.”
“Of course sir, thank you.” Hopper growled with a bow of his head. With an inaudible grunt he ordered the velociraptors to rally behind him as he returned back to the forest, thus leaving Giant by himself. Closing his eyes, the giganotosaurus took a deep breath of fresh air when he looked forward. Had it been anyone but Hopper, he would have torn their head from their body, but the allosaurus, no matter how cynical or sarcastic he seemed, was loyal. It was a trait he cared for about all others. As the gears in his head continued to click and grind, one single thought crossed his mind, one that drifted toward a more pleasant image.
How was Eira doing amidst all of this?